Princes of Waco
Script scraps coherency for endless character deviations
|Signal Ensemble Theatre presents|
|Princes of Waco|
Review by Katy Walsh
I remember Author Flannery O’Connor from my high school English assignments. She had a propensity to write about characters that had a dark side. Unsettlingly but subtlety cruel. I think it stays with me 30+ years later because before that I believed a good man wasn’t hard to find.
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of Princes of Waco. Jim is running away. His minister father has died and he is done with the hypocrisy. He’s tired of a small town of church folk sinning 6 days a week and being pious on the seventh day. He’s done. On his way out, he meets Fritz. It’s the typical-preacher’s-son-meets-town-drunk-in-a-bar. Or is it? Lives change from a chance encounter. But is it for the good or the bad? Princes of Waco engages in nasty behavior and then it gets despicable.
Playwright Robert Askins flushed out an interesting but predictable story… to a point. And then Askins rolls out twists and turns in the *last* quarter. Director Bries Vannon delivers powerful and compelling performances in the first ninety minutes. But the shifting story in the final round becomes increasingly irksome. Askin’s script is so focused on surprising character deviation, it gets convoluted. In the last several scenes, I utter a silent prayer “end it here” as the never-ending saga continues without an end in sight. The script is thirty minutes and two big reveals too long.
Having said that, the acting is superb. Joseph Stearns (Fritz) plays drunken mess with a balance of amicability, detestability and humility. Stearns delivers a powerfully, complex performance. I go back and forth wanting to hug him, hit him and hurt him-bad! Rob Fenton (Jim) is outstanding. Fenton transforms and hardens throughout the show. But weirdly, Fenton physically ages during the intermission. Wow! Carolyn Braver (Esme) charms as a young high schooler with her own past demons. And Meredith Bell Alvarez (Toasty) anchors the show as the no-nonsense bartender with just a hint of wistfulness.
Princes of Waco investigates the true dark essences of humanity. For me, it’s a little much. But just like Flannery O’Conner’s tale about a Bible salesman, I’m not likely to forget this story.
Princes of Waco continues through September 22nd at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and are available by phone (773-698-7389) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SignalEnsemble.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Johnny Knight
behind the scenes
Bries Vannon* (director), Lindsay Bartlett (dialects), Michael C. Smith (lights), Mary O’Dowd^ (props), Melania Lancy* (set), Anthony Ingram* (sound), Stephanie Ingram* (stage manager), Vanessa Passini (fight choreographer). Johnny Knight (photos)